The masterplan

england-odi

A common theme during the last six months has been the attempt to portray critics of ECB team management as (a) whingers and (b) paranoid conspiracy theorists.

The problem is, time and again we’ve been proved right.

As Arron said on our discussion boards recently, if we’d suggested in the wake of Pietersen’s sacking that Peter Moores would return as coach, we’d have been laughed off as delusional trolls.

Many of us ‘below the line’ have argued that England’s decline – and the ill-treatment of several players – stemmed from the dark side of Flowerism, of which Peter Moores is an avid exponent.

Andy Flower achieved an enormous amount as England head coach. He oversaw three consecutive Ashes victories and our rise to number one in the test rankings.

But that success came at a price. Towards the end of Flower’s tenure, his obsession with statistics and pre-prepared plans began to corrode the team’s soul.

Outwardly, he appeared to run the team on the basis of spreadsheets and management theory, at the expense of individuality and even common sense. It was the cricket of computer says no. And if a plan which worked on paper didn’t in practice, it was persisted with anyway.

Any tactic, or any player, which did not align with Flower’s systems were forbidden or eliminated. Dynamism, flair, and risk-taking, were deeply frowned upon. The only trusted approach was conservatism. Ambition was held in suspicion. Aim low. Steady stoicism was the name of the game. It was the Pink Floyd credo: hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.

As I’ve argued before, this is one of the main reasons why Alastair Cook should not remain captain. He is a staunch Flowerite, and, unable to see beyond this now discredited approach, he traps England in the past.

This much was evident as recently as the Lord’s test against India in July, when England bowled themselves to defeat by stubbornly persisting with ill-conceived plans, instead of bowling naturally.

Broad and Anderson effectively admitted this, when they later said that from Old Trafford onwards they consciously started to bowl wicket-taking balls, instead of sticking rigidly to a pre-ordained plan. Lo and behold, they suddenly became vastly more effective – and the series was turned on its head. It would be fascinating to know whose idea it was to so radically change the philosophy.

But when we “know-nothings” make these kinds of points, more often than not we’re derided for our agenda-fuelled ignorance. Watching from afar, what could we possibly understand about what’s going on?

And then Graeme Swann goes and proves us right. I know you’ve probably seen this already. And as it speaks for itself I’ll make no further comment. But I’d love to hear yours.

“I’ve sat in these meetings for the last five years listening to how it is a statistics-based game. There was this crazy stat in the last World Cup that [if we got] 230 we would win 72 per cent of our matches. The whole game was built upon having this many runs after this many overs, this many partnerships, doing this in the middle working at 4.5 an over. I used to shake my head thinking: ‘This is crazy.’

“I remember Trott getting 86 [in [the 2011 World Cup quarter final] in Colombo. We’d batted to our batting plan perfectly, got 229, everyone said brilliant – they knocked it off in 39 overs. That’s how we always played it. It’s crazy.”

39 comments

  • All very well – but instead of yet another post just criticising the current set up, how about saying what you’d do differently?

    • HH – I’ve made plenty of positive suggestions! See my post on Sat about constructive engagement with the ECB.

      In terms of ODIs: aim to score 300 minimum. Drop Cook. Open with Hales and maybe Morgan. Push Buttler up. Attack far more. As Vaughan says, Eng need power all the way through.

      • The debate I’ve seen has divided pretty neatly into two. No-one believes there is a bowler out there that is going to make a difference, so it comes down to the batting.

        School 1 is that it is too late to change, and that a blow-it-up and see where the land lies is a recipe for failure. That goes for the captain.

        School 2 is that we will fail with this team and should do the radical change now and let it bed down for the dozen or so ODIs we have upcoming. You know the names. Vince, Roy, Taylor in particular.

        The thing is, they are probably both right. Blow it up now and you’ll be extremely fortunate if you get the right mix. Stay as we are, and Swann’s statements look more appropriate.

        The fans, I think, would forgive 2 rather than 1, because there’s an upside. If they fail, we find out more about the characters in the team and who may be the one or two to step up. They’ve done that, a bit, with the test team and leaving the politics aside, done it pretty well.

        Why now the caution with the ODI team? In Australia I think 280-300 will be the target score, and I think we can get carried away with thinking it has to be 320-350. An opener, if he stays there, is going to need to make 150, not 100-120 and that’s the rub. I can’t see Cook doing that. Again, trying to leave my well-known gripes with his captaincy out of it. He’s not in our best one day XI, and deep down, I think he knows it.

        All in all, this is all a bit late in the day to be debating this.

      • Will there be an admission now that Swanny wasn’t just an ECB cheerleader for Cook during the summer, and has a more balanced view than some on here might have given him credit for?

        • Swann’s been a cheerleader for Cook the individual, not the ECB. Sure, Swann also suggested Cook leave the ODI team, but for most of the piece he was still going on about how much he loves his “best mate” Cooky.

          Is it really appropriate for a broadcaster to be “best mates” with a person he’s paid to analyse and comment upon, on air?

          What Cook was criticising was Flower’s ODI strategy, and their tactics at the 2011 WC, when Strauss was captain.

      • I’m gobsmacked Maxie. Truth will out aye? Given that they lost, BIG TIME, it is a wonder someone has done something to the team. What the hell is Cook doing in the ODI team. Something pretty peculiar going on. STILL! Same old, same old. Telegraph usual suspects still bleating on about KP playing for himself and not England! Why should this man be allowed to play for England as he’s not English after all. Yawn yawn! It beggars belief really given the players in the England team at this moment are not “English!” Disagree with the old crowd and get ready for the usual condescending, patronising comments. As a woman of course one is in receipt of the worst kind of attacks.

        The management is certainly not thinking of next year and the need to plan ahead for the arrival of the Aussies. It really is just awful. I just cannot bear to watch at the moment.

  • It’s ok folks, the same guy is coaching The Lions! And whispering into Moores’ ear of course.

    Id like to ask Flower one question: why is/was your goal simply to post a total that will lose 3 times out of 10? Surely the idea should be to score as many runs as possible. This involves reading the game, assessing conditions and reacting to events. If this plan comes off, you might actually win 80 or 90% of matches … Just like the good teams. Heaven knows what he would’ve made of WASP!

    All those times everyone was moaning about Trott’s ODI performances (with the slow scoring rates) we now know he was simply obeying orders. Whoever bought Flower ‘Moneyball’ for Christmas made a huge mistake. Sigh.

  • And see if you can do it without mentioning a certain South African – born batsman who, whether you like it or not, is never going to play for England again.

    • Sorry to say that is a very silly comment. Might interest you to know that the Telegraph is still bleating on about him. Yes I do believe he is in the past, England-wise, but the problems for England remain problematic! The ECB still making a pig’s ear and Moores is obviously out of his depth. Seems strange at the moment with my football team taking on a leader that didn’t do very well first time around. Do these morons who govern our sports ever learn? I think the ECB is too busy money and power grabbing to care about whether England Cricket is going down the pan.

  • Well as Blackadder said of the grand plan in Blackadder goes 4th

    “You mean the plan where everybody gets slaughtered until the only ones left are Field Marshal Haig, Lady Haig, and their tortoise…. Alan?”

  • Hi Maxie. Really enjoy reading the blogs posted here – its refreshing to read someone actually picking at the bones of some of the issues faced by the England cricket team rather than just wallowing in the, admittedly encouraging, victories England have enjoyed over nearly 10 years.

    I’m also a rugby fan and I think there are some parallels between the two sports. England’s victory in ’03 should have heralded a New Age in rugby, where the SH teams didn’t have it all their own way. I think the were 14 consecutive victories by England over the SH teams during that stage.

    However, the SH teams recognised a threat and they adapted their game plans accordingly. England on the other hand stayed true to their blueprint until the introduction of a new coach in Lancaster, with some fresh, new ideas.

    In terms of the cricket, the introduction of first Hussein, then Vaughan, then Strauss as captains, along with Fletcher and then Flower, saw another new age for another great game. Instead we had a hiatus once again. Fletcher was an in the background type of coach, or so I’ve been told, who allowed the captain some leeway. I have read he often stayed in the coach’s shed during intervals and allowed the skipper to lead. Consequently, during Hussein and Vaughan’s tenure we seemed to have two skippers who had a feel for the game, rather than rely on being drip-fed info and simply following instructions

    We made great strides during the Fletcher years. And then we had Moores for a short time who was very hands on – something Vaughan kicked against and obviously KP too. He was replaced by Flower who was a similar coach, demanding the team rigidly adhered to plans – something you make clear here.

    I think, personally, the latter two allowed KP his head – there was often talk of him being chosen to take the game away from teams – whatever the situation the match was in. The problem with him was they weren’t convinced they should have him there. He was the prime scapegoat once we had a disaster like the Ashes tour.

    Robotic sport is only successful if the plans work. Do we have players who can think for themselves? We don’t know because they aren’t being allowed to – its been that way in both rugby and cricket. If they really can’t top class sport is screwed over here. England cricket at the mo is a poisoned chalice because of what you mention. I hope that may change soon. I doubt it though.

    I would be interested in your thoughts – if you think I’m talking bollocks let me know,

    • Hi Steve – thanks for your kind words and it’s great to have you here.

      Thanks also for your interesting analysis. Alas, I know very little about rugby, but I’m sure James (who does) will pick up on this later!

      The problem with analysing Flower’s reign is that he did achieve a very great deal. But there is a large and growing quantity of evidence that his tendency to micro-manage, to take on too many roles which should rightly be the captains, to snuff out individuality and individual responsibility, and to impose computer-generated plans which neutered instinct, corroded and diminished the team as a cricketing organism.

      Sometimes plans work very well, and of course modern test teams need to think very carefully in advance about strategies. Eighty one years ago, England reclaimed the Ashes in Australia thanks to the precisely-engineered and perfectly executed strategy of ‘fast leg theory’ (the B-word was just an Australian term – Jardine never called it that), but it was only deployed at certain times during the series, not constantly.

      The coach’s role has undergone mission creep – they now see their job as managing and controlling every aspect of training and performance. The captain should ultimately be in charge; the coach is there to coach – they are not like a manager in football.

        • Ah, Douglas Jardine. The one Englishman (along with Larwood, Bowes and Voce) who proved that Bradman was human. Who doesn’t love him?!
          :)
          But….I’m confused? Jardine doesn’t start with B?

          • Are you referring to the dressing room bastards story?

            Bill Bowes is the forgotten bowler from that series, and only played in the second test, but in the first innings memorably bowled Bradman – for whom leg theory had been designed, and with Larwood chomping at the bit – with a rank long-hop. “Well I’ll be buggered”, Bowes said afterwards, in one of the great understatements of cricket history.

    • I’m also almost as much of a rugby fan as I am cricket and agree there are plenty of parallels between the two in England. Some that strike me:
      1) Templates – both national teams get locked into a template when it has brought some success. In rugby, England have tried to recreate over and over the WC winning team (forward dominance, kicking FH, etc). In cricket, England are trying to perpetuate the Flower/Strauss way that won the Ashes and took them to No.1 (bowl dry, coaches set plans etc). It seems as if we can’t handle success – the All Blacks show how, when at the top, you should aim to get better, not just keep to the same formula.
      2) Dull conservatism – follows from 1 that both templates are dully conservative, risk-averse ways of playing the respective games. I find it difficult to like either team even when they are winning. I wouldn’t mind sticking to a formula if these were more exciting! Flair and spontaneity seem alien to both set-ups.
      3) Poor administration – both games seem blighted by administrators who get very ‘up themselves’ with a little success and waste much of their effort on in-fighting. Both also schedule too many games and have dubious records in developing home talent sometimes preferring to import ready- or nearly ready-made versions.
      4) Inflated records – both create impressions they are more successful than they actually are. Both are heavily reliant on home wins against weaker nations. Lancaster has W1 and L4 against the ABs and D1 L3 against SA. I’ve posted before about how poor the cricket team’s away record is.
      5) Both heavily co-opt the media. If you think Selvey was close to Flower, try reading Kitson on Lancaster! Although even Kitson was critical after the 3-0 defeat in NZ and didn’t witter on about at least the captain kept his dignity (when Robshaw actually was one of the few players to match the ABs).
      6) Captaincy – when the rugby team were humiliated in the Antipodes (in the Rugby WC) and changed coach the new coach immediately brought in a new captain. So the parallels aren’t exactly perfect…..

      It was concerning that Woodward wrote a piece about how cricket should become more like rugby in elevating the coach above the captain. Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he…. I also expect most of this would apply to the football team – if they had any success!

      Thanks again for some cracking recent articles here and soem of your comments on Dmitri’s blog were absolutely nailed on (especially Maxie’s about Pietersen and James about Ed Smith).

  • That comment from Swann was like a vindication for me. Time and again I would say that Trott was losing us ODIs, only to be told “well, his average is higher than anyone else’s in the team, and if he stays there to the end, his overall strike rate is one of the best anyway.” But this was to ignore the fact that it wasn’t Trott himself that was the problem as much as the fact that England’s entire strategy was built around Trott. Other players were expected to dig us out of the rut the outdated “building a platform” strategy landed us in. They had to hit out or get out, and usually they got out (invariably, in the batting power play, which might have been created specifically to mock the folly of England’s strategy.) If they did pull it off, yes, Trott would manage to ride in their slip stream, finishing with a decent strike rate and thus seemingly vindicating the strategy. But more often a) the strategy failed; and b) it would be the other batsmen who paid the price. (The latest to suffer is Ravi Bopara, arguably our best ODI player for the past couple of years.) This isn’t to denigrate Jonathan Trott, whom I love dearly. In fact, he played his role superbly — too well, in fact. It’s just that the strategy was completely antediluvian.

    I could just about see a justification for this strategy in the Champion’s Trophy, in English conditions — though quite honestly, even though we reached the final, we stunk out that competition by playing in a way that was a complete turn-off in this form of the game. But the fact that we are persisting with the same strategy with the next World Cup in Australasia is beyond stupidity. We are in the territory of Einstein’s definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    • England must be the only country in the world with management who would look at all the players available for 50 over ODI cricket, and conclude that the best option for opener is Alastair Cook.

      Often we tend to relegate ODIs to a secondary or tertiary role in English cricket, but at the World Cup the stakes are very high. We ruined our chances in the winter Ashes by scheduling them back to the back with the previous series in the name of improving our WC chances. Unless we actually win the tournament, it will all have been for nothing.

      • Can’t be said often enough (and it’s also the reason why South Africa will have played only three Tests over here between 2009 and 2016, compared to Australia’s fifteen plus two against Pakistan in the same period). But it won’t be said often enough by friendly journalists from the Goldfish School of Memory.

  • Just yesterday Cook was talking about Hales. He said his inclusion is exciting, but doesn’t really change anything as the job of ALL the top 4 is to get their heads down and make centuries. Hmmmm. Doesn’t sound like much has changed. There was no talk of getting off to fliers and taking the game away from the opposition.

    Of course it would be no surprise if England carry on with flawed plans. Our coach has never won a limited overs trophy in his long career. Hardly fills me with optimism.

    Any coach who aims to score X amount of runs at set points in the game is hugely misguided in my opinion. For starters, such pre determined plans totally ignore what the opposition are doing. Maybe, for example, they opened the bowling with an unexpected combo, or saved a star performer for a different / unexpected part of the innings. Set plans also require a team to read the pitch and other conditions perfectly, which often fails to happen. ODIs are frequently about thinking on one’s feet. England’s strategy in recent times has been ridiculously old fashioned, and the fact that Flower, then Giles and now Moores appear to be following the same path suggests a broader problem.

  • “As Arron said on our discussion boards recently, if we’d suggested in the wake of Pietersen’s sacking that Peter Moores would return as coach, we’d have been laughed off as delusional trolls.”

    Minor point of order, Mr. Chairman. I said that about Flower returning to coach the Lions, and I stand by it. Moores was predicted by quite a few people BTL on the Guardian, not least because Selvey wrote this within three days of Pietersen’s sacking:

    http://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2014/feb/12/lancashire-peter-moores-replace-andy-flower-england-coach

    The comments are an entertaining mix of anger, cynicism and black humour. I think I said that, as twists in the tale go, the return of Moores was more Basic Instinct than the original Planet of the Apes. As in, you’d have to be half asleep not to see it coming after Flower’s non-departure and Pietersen’s dismissal.

  • I have mentioned this to Maxie before about a BBC 5 live show. About 1 week before the ashes started down under last winter radio 5 gave over the whole evening to a long interview with Andy Flower about his preparation for the up coming tour. It had been recorded before the team flew out. As I listened to this interview 2 things struck me. 1st, it all seemed very much obsessed with minutiae, and David Brent speak. 2nd, if the tour went Pear shaped Flower was going to look ridiculous.

    England walked into an ambush at Brisbane. The hostility of the crowd and the media seemed to catch England off guard. And then after serving up strictly military medium bowlers for the warm up games Australia unleashed Johnson on a bemused England team. 87 page diet sheets were not much use. But all kinds of things were not much use. They had taken the the three giant fast bowlers who turned out not to be fit for purpose. Flower seemed to think he could just repeat 2011. But those tall bowlers had not been bowling well back in England. They had no back up plan for dealing with Swanns decline. Flower can’t be blamed for what happened to Trott. Although they thought they were managing Trotts problems.

    Now you may wonder why I bring this up because I have said before I am suspicious of the cult of the all powerful coach in modern sport. But I believe dogmatic coaches can do more harm that decent coaches can do good. Flower was dogmatic, and was very much ‘my way or the high way.,’ This is why I am so disappointed he is back and now coaching the players of tomorrow. His inability do deal with maverick characters who dare to question his methods is not my idea of good management. You have to find a way to let the stars shine. Brian Clough and Bill Shankly believed football was a simple game complicated by idiots. Alex Ferguson identified talent and then created the stage for them to perform. As one unidentified England player was quoted as saying during last years summer ashes “we are even monitored when we go to the toilet..”

    As for all Flowers so called success I would suggest it was more down to the players he had at their peak. Strauss and a young Cook opening’ Trott as a run machine at 3. KP at 4. Counter attacking WK in Prior. Anderson’s swing bowling and Swann (England’s best modern day spinner and lower order batsman) you would have to very incompetent to screw that up.

    • I’ve got that interview saved. Also there was a huge long part with David Saker, which in hindsight is hilarious. There was some good stuff put out last year, not least Flintoff’s interview with Mr Irrelevant and Feel Free To Boo.

      • I’m glad someone else heard it too Dmitri. I thought I was the only one.

        The BBC should re run it for comedic effect. Then stop every 15 minutes for a panel of Aggers, Selvey, and Newman to explain it.

  • It is absolutely incredible that the man responsible for the following shambles is still involved with England cricket in any way, shape or form:

    “I’ve sat in these meetings for the last five years listening to how it is a statistics-based game. There was this crazy stat in the last World Cup that [if we got] 230 we would win 72 per cent of our matches. The whole game was built upon having this many runs after this many overs, this many partnerships, doing this in the middle working at 4.5 an over. I used to shake my head thinking: ‘This is crazy.’

    “I remember Trott getting 86 [in [the 2011 World Cup quarter final] in Colombo. We’d batted to our batting plan perfectly, got 229, everyone said brilliant – they knocked it off in 39 overs. That’s how we always played it. It’s crazy.”

  • Looks like I got here just in time
    Erm, hello everyone. Look, I’m not that good at talking to people but I want to say a few things before the publication thingy of my new book – “Alastair Crook – I Make The Decisions – The Real Me” – which Alice helped me write. She is such a dear.
    I have been the butt of loads of comments about my role in Kevin Peterson being sacked or whatever by England. I want to put the record straight. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. I was with Alice at the time reviewing my offside drive and fixing the gate posts. I just want you to understand what happened before Kev says his side. It’s important. You can then make your own mind up.
    Look, me and the lads just want to play cricket and it has nothing to do with a lad called Peterson in my old school who was in the choir and sang better than me. The prefects sorted him out too. But that has nothing to do with cricket. People claim because I’m not obviously warm and funny that I’m not human. I’m not. I just want to play with the lads and win things for England. My book says all there is to say about it. I am made of steel and hope this comes across in the book so that you can understand what I’m about. Even when Alice was talking me out of resigning from the captaincy because of the loss of income I stood strong and agreed with her. That’s how strong I am.
    As for the matter of tactics and captaincy I know I will get better. I talk to Mooresy all of the time although Alice doesn’t always approve of me checking somethings things out with him. Look, it’s all about Belly and Bally and Butty and Broady and the lads winning for England. I’ve already won things and I want the lads to win somemore for me so that we can be seen as great. I know I am.

    • ;-))

      Is that The other Dave? It has his style to it.

      Staying as England captain is much more profitable than staying up all night lambing.

  • Stellar collapse by England it’s like Christmas all over again, liiterally.

    And Australia got drubbed by de Villiers and du Plessis but at least we made over 300.

  • God I hope that you keep Cook for the Ashes. I reckon I’ll be able to convert most of you to Australian supporters.

  • If this is England’s masterplan then I give up now!
    We have seen this sort of rubbish for decades now – either give up England or completely change what you do – this is RUBBISH

    And get rid of those bloody Royal London ads – they ARE NOT funny

  • Cook says it better than anyone:-

    “His remarks were not that helpful – especially from a so-called friend – but he’s entitled to his opinion,” said an unsmiling Cook. “But it’s not ideal for me, especially after getting through the summer I’ve had. I have not spoken to him about it. The phone is always open the other way. It’s a little bit disappointing.

    “He’s a good friend and has been a supporter and it’s not helpful at this time because I am going to go and captain in this World Cup. We’re going to build up to that and we’ve got a good chance although obviously if we play like that we aren’t going to win many games of cricket.” (guardian)

    Does this finally lay to rest the notion the Cook is a nice guy????

  • Stats are great, stats are useful, as long as you have enough experience and common sense to interpret them correctly and separate the occasional useful insight from the random statistical fluff.

    Planning is great, planning is useful, but the plan needs to be adaptable and responsive. Batsmen and bowlers plan their tactics on a ball by ball basis, captains on an over by over basis, coaches on a session by session basis.

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